Today we’d like to welcome painter, Jeffery Thompson to the blog.
Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
I’m a mixed media artist living in San Francisco. I studied printmaking and painting at Cal State Hayward, and later I briefly attended the SF Art Institute. I was recently selected for the 2015 San Francisco General Hospital Association’s “Hearts in San Francisco” project. Last year I had a solo show on the campus of Southern Oregon University, and had my work consigned to the SFMOMA Artists Gallery at the Fort Mason Center.
How did you get started doing what you do?
My earliest creative memory was when I was seven. I was hiking in the hills east of Los Angeles where I grew up. I came across this shallow creek bed and just started drawing in the mud. Before I knew it, I’d spent hours carving out a series of large oblong faces into the bank. I was completely immersed in the act of creating these massive forms directly into the wall of the creek, unaware of time passing. When I looked up it was getting dark. It was a perfect day. How would you describe your style?
I suppose my style could be called graphic or geometric abstraction. I see it, to some extent, as a reflection of my interior life, what I obsess about. I’ve always been interested in the structure of things, and my work stems from that.
What’s your inspiration?
When things are working well, I occasionally get a feeling of having broken through to something important. I have gone looking for that feeling everywhere. On a day-to-day basis I find inspiration in small personal things; simple acts of kindness, shared sacrifice, and personal loyalty. I think when you work with abstract imagery you draw much of your inspiration from within. What does your typical day look like?
My day begins very early; some mornings I get up before dawn. It’s the best time to work. San Francisco has a clear blue light in the morning that’s ideal for painting. I usually warm up by organizing the studio. After that I’ll get the heavy work done – framing or building surfaces. I use a wide variety of materials in my work, so at that point I might spend time preparing them. Once that is set, I paint until the light fades.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
That varies. I’m still learning about finishing work, and what that means. Sometimes you just need to sit with the work a while before you know, sometimes you know intuitively. Along the way I’ve cobbled together a few approaches that work for me. When I feel close to finishing a piece, I’ll set it aside and move on to another project. It’s best to always be working on something else. It’s critical to view the work with fresh eyes, and this happens naturally when your focus is directed away. Ironically, what does and doesn’t work often becomes clearest when you’re distracted. How do you keep motivated?
To me motivation is intrinsic. It’s about being clear on exactly what you want to accomplish. It’s also about channeling your intensity and putting that energy into action. The final aspect is persistence, not allowing yourself to quit.
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Work harder. This applies generally to every situation you will encounter.
What is art to you?
Art is a mirror. It lets us see our selves in a unique and important way. It tells us how we are alike and how we differ. It’s our low and our high, a reflection of who we are. How have your surroundings influenced your work?
It‘s changed my approach, my aesthetics, my values, and most significantly, it’s changed my work. A few years back I began searching for alternative materials and, because I live very close to Chinatown, I instantly came across a variety of Asian newspapers like the Sing Tao Daily and the Chinese Daily News. I immediately began incorporating them into my work. They have since become a permanent part of my working pallet.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I want to contribute to the conversation, to create something that invites dialog. I want it to inform without pretense, and I want it to mirror my experience.
How have others reacted to your work?
The response has been very gratifying, especially the response locally. Being recognized by SF General, and the SFMOMA Artists Gallery has been very rewarding for me personally. What do you want others to take away from your work?
I want them to respond to the work. Positive or negative, it all matters. If they recognize or identify with some aspect of what I’m doing, that would be worthwhile.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Nothing, or at least nothing of consequence. A lot of what has been most valuable to me, a lot of what I’ve learned, was the result of getting back up after being knocked down. Experience can’t be circumvented or softened. It has to hit you right in the face. It has to blindside you.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Each failure takes you someplace new, and that experience is priceless. What are your thoughts on art school?
School can be important, but not more important than hard work. The best thing about school is the support it offers. If you’re in school and working hard, then that’s probably where you should be. If not, you’ll need to find a way to continue to work. It’s as simple as that.
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
A MacArthur Grant would be nice! Seriously, the most important thing to me is to continue working. I want to enjoy that privilege as long as possible.
What’s your dream project?
I have always wanted to integrate my work into a site-specific setting, a kind of chapel or installation. My work seems to transform in certain environments and I’d like to see where I could take that. What art supplies do you use?
The big ones are YES Paste and Galkyd! I also use a lot of 4-color newsprint in my work. In fact, I use a wide variety of print materials, especially low-tech posters, signage and other graphics. Beyond that it’s generally oil, acrylic, and pencil.
How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
The art industry should probably listen more, look around more, and stop agreeing with itself so much. It’s a pretty incestuous environment in general. That being said it is currently in such a high state of flux, it’s hard to tell what will happen with it.
Any other artists that you would like to recommend for others to check out as well?
Lately I’ve been looking on-line at the work of a few east coast artists, especially Julie Torres, Valerie Brennan (her blog can be found here), and Paul Behnke (his blog can also be found here).